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October 14, 2008
  
The Case against K-Rod

Is K-Rod worth a minimum of five years and 75 million dollars? In what would easily be the largest deal ever given to a closer, Francisco Rodriguez’ deal will likely set the gold standard for the next generation of closers. On Metsgeek.com, Mets fans’ discussions have been sounding more like those of partisan politicians rather than baseball fans in their passionate support or rejection of giving K-Rod the pot of gold and the rainbow, to boot.

From an organizational standpoint, the Mets’ breaking the bank for a closer is misguided for a number of reasons. And while many of those reasons have been mentioned, one easily stands out to me as an overlooked.

First, the obvious:

Billy Wagner’s $10.5-million salary in 2009 is not covered by insurance, meaning the Mets will be on the hook for every penny. Obviously, with the Mets being a major market ball club, this will not mean quite as much as it would if they were a small- or mid-market franchise. However, $10.5 million, plus K-Rod, would mean dedicating between 15-20% of the Mets’ 2009 payroll on the closer spot. Signing K-Rod at $15 million in addition to Wagner’s $10.5 million dedicates an astounding $26.5 million to the closer role. By comparison, the highest paid closer in baseball is currently Mariano Rivera, at $15 million annually. If that’s not enough, K-Rod will likely earn close to $200,000 per inning through the life of his next deal (75 IP/15 million per season). That’s the equivalent of an entire season of Daniel Murphy or Eddie Kunz until arbitration for two to three innings of K-Rod. This factoid will become even more important later in the piece.

The second argument is declining peripherals, namely strikeouts and hits allowed which are red flags to some Mets fans. Frankly, I feel the peripheral argument is vastly overblown since he really only allowed four extra hits than in 2007 while throwing an additional inning. Yes, he did strikeout 13 less batters over that same span, but throwing thirty less pitches in 2008 than in the previous season while working a greater number of innings is hopefully a sign of things to come. The real knock against K-Rod is the fact that he is simply inefficient with the number of pitches he throws. This, combined with his violent delivery, makes him an injury risk. Between 2002 and 2008, K-Rod threw about 160 more pitches in big league games than Mariano Rivera. Not a big deal right? Unfortunately, Rodriguez’s 2002 season included only 92 pitches after being called up, so he has essentially thrown an extra seasons worth of pitches compared to Rivera since entrenching himself in the Angels’ pen. This added wear and tear on his arm serves as a much bigger issue going forward than a baker’s dozen less strikeouts or so per season.

While both of these arguments hold some validity, the overlooked piece of the equation is the Mets drafting a boatload of bullpen arms early in the 2006-2008 drafts. Currently, the Mets minor league system is in the bottom ten in terms of overall talent which is a direct result of this strategy and leaves the Mets vulnerable in a number of ways including:

1. A lack of depth making deadline deals difficult
2. Overall inability to develop players within the organization
3. Inability to develop players internally leading to trades out of necessity or a great number of free agent signings
4. Loss of draft picks due to said free agent signings

Need proof? Between the first and fifth rounds of the 2006-2008 draft, the Mets signed the following guys who profile as likely bullpen arms. As I stated earlier, if and when the players below not named Smith or Kunz make the bigs, the rookie minimum contract each receives over a full season will be equal to two to three innings of K-Rod.

2006: Joe Smith, 3rd round
2006: John Holdzkom, 4th round
2006: Stephen Holmes, 5th round
2007: Eddie Kunz, Supp. 1st round
2007: Brant Rustich, 2nd round
2007: Stephen Clyne, 3rd round
2008: Bradley Holt, Supp. 1st round

Bradley Holt is included on this list as Baseball America viewed him as player whose best role would likely be in the bullpen. They also published a breakdown of a Holt performance in college in which he threw 149 pitches with only eight being of the off speed variety. Even with his success as a starter in Brooklyn, he’s no guarantee to remain a starter over the long haul.

While I understand the Mets are built to win now, how does an organization draft eight players, six of them already being relievers, invest millions in them, and then sign an elite level closer? Maybe Minaya can do it now that he received his extension, but shouldn’t organizational higher ups be furious at the way these picks were essentially wasted when not a single one of them ever becomes the Mets answer at closer? When researching this article, names like Austin Romine, Andrew Lambo and Neftali Soto were only three of the many fast rising prospects the Mets missed out on because of this flawed philosophy. An entire piece could be dedicated to players the Mets overlooked in favor of bullpen arm after bullpen arm (hint, hint).

Yes, the Mets would have made the playoffs and may still be playing if K-Rod had been the Mets closer. In defense of K-Rod, he is easily the best closer in terms of age and success to become a free agent in years if not ever. If Francisco Cordero is worth $48 million over four years, K-Rod definitely deserves the riches he will soon receive. However, should he sign with the Mets, make no mistake that the move will be made out of desperation, and not out of sound financial and organizational planning. After shedding the contracts of Pedro Martinez and Moises Alou, the Mets are left with very few bad contracts on the roster. With less expensive, lower risk options available (See my prior columns), signing K-Rod is an unnecessary risk which could backfire in a big way.


13 Responses to “The Case against K-Rod”

  1. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on October 14, 2008 at 3:04 am (#876562)

    I was thinking about how few useful controlled players the Mets have. It’s reprehensible that after 4 years, the best player that the Minaya organization has produced is Joe Smith. Granted, it’s possible that guys like Niese, Carp, Evans, and Murphy will come in ‘09 and be useful, but now everyone wants to trade everyone and everything for a guy like Holiday and sign Manny etc.

    My feeling is that the Minaya years in retrospect will be viewed as an unmitigated disaster in which we wasted the best position players the franchise has ever produced.

  2. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on October 14, 2008 at 3:07 am (#876563)

    Granted, I forgot about Pelfrey. I believe he was a Minaya draft, but the point still stands, if less forcefully.

  3. Comment posted by WilmerHasArrived on October 14, 2008 at 6:33 am (#876564)

    I wouldn’t be heartbroken if they sign K-Rod, but I’d rather have Brian Fuentes. That’ll leave us more more money to go after another big piece, like Derek Lowe.

  4. Comment posted by tm on October 14, 2008 at 8:32 am (#876570)

    I feel the peripheral argument is vastly overblown since he really only allowed four extra hits than in 2007 while throwing an additional inning. Yes, he did strikeout 13 less batters over that same span, but throwing thirty less pitches in 2008 than in the previous season while working a greater number of innings is hopefully a sign of things to come.

    It’s not just last year, the K rate, BB rate and WHIP have all gotten worse over the last 4 years. A big money, long term deal for K-Rod will be a mistake for whoever signs him.

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  6. Comment posted by Mike Newman on October 14, 2008 at 8:57 am (#876579)

    K-Rod’s 2006 season was outstanding in comparison to his 2005, 2007, 2008 seasons which were not quite as dominating. If you look at the peripherals for those three seasons, the numbers are very similar. Similar enough for me to think his 2006 was a bit of an outlier and not what can be expected year in and year out. If you look at Mo Rivera’s numbers in comparison, the opposite is true as Mo has 3-4 years of ERA’s in the 1’s and a single seasons in the high 2’s or low 3’s which shows the merely good to very good season as an outlier.

  7. Comment posted by Wally Dykstra on October 14, 2008 at 9:42 am (#876660)

    The guy looks like his arm will fly off every time he throws. He’s going to run into serious shoulder problems sooner or later.

  8. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on October 14, 2008 at 10:23 am (#876717)

    When the other options are Brian Fuentes and no closer whatsoever, though, I mean… you basically have to sign him and hope for the best.

    We’ve seen what it is to have no closer, in lurid detail and… Brian Fuentes? Really? For really reals?

  9. Comment posted by drdublbog on October 14, 2008 at 11:37 am (#876802)

    One way to solve the closer problem is to trade for an 8th inning set up man with closer stuff. Assuming CA resigns K-Rod and loses Tex the FA, do you think they’d trade Shields & Figgins for Delgado?

  10. Comment posted by developwilletspoint on October 14, 2008 at 2:54 pm (#876993)

    A lot of your concerns about the Mets’ decisions over the past few years are dead on. That being said, I disagree with the conclusion that Rodriguez would be a bad idea for the Mets in 2009 and beyond.

    The fact that the Mets drafted a boatload of bullpen arms that may not ever be major league material should not stop them from acquiring someone like K-Rod. Instead, the failed philosophies of the past should be changed as the Mets draft in the future.

    In addition, the money spent on Billy Wagner should not make a major impact on the opportunity to bring in an elite closer. His contract, along with Alou’s and Pedro’s contracts, should change the way the Mets approach contracts with older players.

    There are plenty of concerns with a major contract for anyone, but K-Rod could be the cornerstone so badly needed in rebuilding the bullpen.

  11. Comment posted by Hubie on October 14, 2008 at 5:04 pm (#877170)

    Mike: I agree with a lot of your points except about Wags’ contract. You need to think of this as a sunk cost for 2009. If the Mets need to spend money on a closer for 2009, then they need to do so irregardless of Wags’ contract.

    That being said, I don’t think they should be giving out 5 year contracts in this economic environment. Its quite possible sponsorships, advertising and other revenues may decline after 2009.

  12. Comment posted by MetsTailgate on October 14, 2008 at 9:54 pm (#877241)

    Right on Mike. According to Fangraphs.com, K-Rod’s average mph on his fastball has declined from 94.8 in 2006 to 91.9 in 2008. The idea of paying him $15 million in 2013 for a 1.35 WHIP and 88 mph fastball is frightening.

    @littlefallsmets - Take another look at Fuentes. His recent numbers are similar (if not better!) than K-Rod’s. And he’d come up cheaper.

  13. Comment posted by Super T on October 14, 2008 at 10:02 pm (#877242)

    I still haven’t made up my mind on inking K-Rod or not, but a few random thoughts…with the key word being “random”.

    I read a big reason the Angels aren’t in a hurry to give K-Rod big money is because they feel they have an adequate replacement for him already from AAA.

    If the Mets and Angels don’t shell out big money for K-Rod, who will? Yankees no, Red Sox no, Dodgers no, Phillies no, what other big market team needs a closer as bad as the Mets?

    Wonder if the Mets could somehow/someway get JJ Putz from Seattle?

    To the person who claimed the Mets haven’t developed anybody under Minaya, I read somewhere a few months ago, that the current Mets roster has made more use of their #1 draft picks than any other current team. Reyes, Wright, Heilman, Santana (from Gomez & Humber), Church/Schneider (from Milledge). And while you might argue that Omar wasn’t responsible for acquiring all of these players…remember he is/was also responsible for NOT dumping these guys for the likes of Victor Zambranos either. Which is more than can be said for MANY prior Met GMs.

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  15. Comment posted by Mike Newman on October 14, 2008 at 11:30 pm (#877245)

    Response to DevelopWillet and Hubie -

    Unfortunately, Wagner’s 10.5 million comes off the top of a projected 140 million or so budget. The Mets are already tied into 110 million or so worth of players (after arbitration raises). Wagner’s black hole leaves them 30 million to play with instead of 40 million. The Mets will still have a budget and Wagner’s money will be a part of it.

    Overall, awesome posts though. Great material!

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